'Nice and Easy (Libre et assoupi)': Film Review

Nice and Easy Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Thomas Brémond - Gaumont / Les Films du Cap

Nice and Easy Still - H 2014

Great chemistry, some chuckles and a meaningful conversation or two are not quite enough to set this film apart from the crowd.

Appealing French actors Charlotte Le Bon, Baptiste Lecaplain and Felix Moati star in this dramatic comedy, the directorial debut of French screenwriter Benjamin Guedj.

PARIS -- A handsome youngster who’s inching toward 30 would prefer not to do anything all day, every day, in Nice and Easy (Libre et assoupi), the feature directorial debut of French screenwriter Benjamin Guedj (Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia).

Reminiscent of early Cedric Klapish fare such as L’Auberge espagnole, this diverting if not entirely smooth dramatic comedy pits the youthful energy of the unemployed protagonist and his two hard-working if almost equally as penniless Parisian roommates against the increasing demands of a society that expects them to join the working classes at whatever cost.

Starring popular local standup comedian Baptiste Lecaplain; promising up-and-comer Felix Moati (Pirate TV) and the increasingly ubiquitous Charlotte Le Bon ­-- one of the leads in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent and next on-screen alongside Hellen Mirren in Lasse Halstrom’s upcoming The Hundred-Foot Journey -- this May 7 release should attract some movie-goers in its first week based on its premise and cast but the film’s finally too risk-averse to withstand the continuous maelstrom of new releases in France, especially once the Cannes contenders will start invading theaters in the film’s second week.

Sebastien (Lecaplain) comes from a middle-class family and has more diplomas than there are workdays in a week. His ultimate goal is not to live life it but instead to dream about it -- and when he’s not dreaming, to read comic books, sit around on the sofa or dance around the Paris apartment he shares with the principled Anna (Le Bon) and the eternally doubtful and naive Bruno (Moati), who’ve been doing odd jobs to make ends meet ever since they finished school.

The challenge of a film about someone who doesn’t want to do anything is of course to keep the story moving and interesting, which Guedj does by allowing Sebastien and Bruno to bond and have bromantic nights on the couch that involve pizza, beer and, occasionally, long talks that expose some of the film’s more thoughtful undercurrents, while a lot of chuckles are generated by the complicity between Sebastien and Anna, who keep dreaming up strange and entirely fictional fetishes for Anna to write down in her dairy, which they know Bruno, who’s secretly in love with the pretty girl, is reading in order to get pointers on how to become more than friends with his roommate.

The three actors are well matched and it is thanks to their chemistry that the film’s as pleasurable as it is, even if their very game work isn’t quite enough to make some of the film’s more out-there moments -- including a night-time museum tour in underwear during which Seb and Bruno come face-to-face with two art robbers who look like they walked out of a cartoon series -- a credible part of the story.

More successful is the developing friendship between Sebastien and Richard (veteran actor Denis Podalydes), a staid, middle-aged employee of the state employment agency that provides Sebastien’s stipend as long as he can prove he’s looking for a job. Against the rules of the office, Richard respects the young man's desire not to want to be employed, perhaps aware that a little reverse-psychology can do wonders. The gradual shifts in their relationship really touch the philosophical core of what the film is ostensibly about, though a little more of their conversations would’ve added a stronger appreciation of the film’s underlying intelligence, with the arguments for and against Sebastien's behavior now not all that radical. Thankfully, Guedj at least shows restraint and a willingness to avoid the beaten path in the way he handles the fate of Sebastien and Anna, who risk to go into chemistry overload from the moment they clap eyes on each other.

There's a beautiful recurring image of the carefree Sebastien, dressed in bright colors and seen from above, as he walks into a mass of darkly dressed employees all walking in formation to work in the opposite direction. But the striking image only underlines how the rest of the film lacks a similar visual elegance, with Guedj, as a  screenwriter who’s now become a writer-director, clearly more dedicated to the dialog than the mise-en-scene. At least the film lives up to its title.

Opens: May 7 (in France; also in Cannes Film Festival -- Market)

Production companies: Les Films du Cap, Gaumont, M6 Films,

Cast: Baptiste Lecaplain, Charlotte Le Bon, Felix Moati, Denis Podalydes, Isabelle Candelier-Parnes, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Suliane Brahim, David Baiot, Lou Chauvain, Benjamin Lavernhe

Director: Benjamin Guedj

Screenwriter: Benjamin Guedj, screenplay based on the novel by Romain Monnery

Producer: Jean Cottin

Director of photography: George Lechaptois

Production designer: Antoine Platteau

Music: Mathieu Lamboley

Costume designer: Muriel Legrand

Editor: Yann Malcor

No rating, 93 minutes.